When entering a field, consider starting out by working for an established organization with the capacity to supervise your work. Learn about the field and make sure you understand the views of established players. The time this takes will vary a lot according to the area you’re working in. We generally think it makes sense to work in an area for at least 1-3 years before doing higher stakes or independently led projects, but in particularly complicated areas — like those that require lots of technical knowledge or graduate study — this can take five years or more.

Second, if you think you’ve identified a neglected approach within a fragile field, try to understand why people with more experience haven’t taken it. It’s possible you found a promising gap but maybe your approach has been tried and failed before, or others are avoiding it because of a flaw you don’t have the context to see.

Third, it’s impossible to anticipate all of these pitfalls on your own and many require tacit or experiential knowledge to identify. Before taking on a risky project in a fragile field, you should try to get adequate training, connect with mentors, and seek out advice from people who better know the lay of the land.

If you’re struggling to find training opportunities or develop the required network, it may be better to stick to safer problems and methods instead of acting unilaterally in a delicate area.

Read the full article about how to avoid doing accidental harm by Howie Lempel and Robert Wiblin at 80,000 Hours.